Ministers are ripping up the booking system for Covid booster jabs with millions set to receive their vaccines a month early amid growing fears the faltering programme risks triggering a winter spike – and another dreaded lockdown.
It comes as Javid is also planning to enforce laws to make Covid vaccines mandatory for all NHS workers, making them a ‘condition of employment’ as soon as possible.
He believes it will help protect vulnerable patients from contracting the virus in hospitals but there are fears it could spark a backlash among vaccine hesitant staff or civil rights groups.
People are eligible for the booster six months after their second jab. But as it stands, patients cannot even start the booking process until that date, and then must wait an average of 18 days to get their appointment.
The delay is believed to be a key reason why only around 4.5 million out of the 9.3 million eligible people in England have so far received the third dose.
The new plan, which Government sources say will be put into effect as soon as possible, will allow people to book in advance so they can get it as soon as the first day they are eligible.
Downing Street advisers have also examined whether the six-month period should be shortened, but concluded the period is still the ‘sweet spot’ which maximises the boost to immunity levels.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has ordered NHS chiefs to allow over-50s to book their third jab a month earlier than at present in a bid to turbocharge the sluggish rollout of boosters to combat Covid
Margaret Keenan, the first person to receive the coronavirus vaccine in December last year, receives her booster jab at University Hospital Coventry in Warwickshire on September 24
The development comes amid signs of growing tensions in Whitehall over the slow take-up of boosters and jabs for 12- to 15-year-olds which has coincided with a sharp rise in infections and hospitalisations.
One source claimed Boris Johnson had ‘taken his eye off the ball’ because No 10’s energies had been consumed by preparations for the forthcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
An analysis by The Mail on Sunday found if the current rate of vaccinations for those aged 12 to 15 is not accelerated, then barely one-third of the age group will have received a jab by the start of December.
The slow progress has led to calls for Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to write directly to pupils to urge them to have the vaccine. But the move is opposed by other Cabinet Ministers who believe it is wrong to bypass parents.
In other developments:
- A total of 44,985 new coronavirus infections were recorded yesterday, a rise of 15.2 per cent on last week’s figure, with deaths up by 12 per cent week-on-week to 135 and hospital admissions up 19 per cent;
- Officials discussed the introduction of ‘lockdown lite’ if cases continue to rise, which would involve more working from home and mask wearing, but stop short of another shutdown of the economy;
- Former Health Minister David Mellor compares anti-vaxxers to ‘someone running along a street stabbing passers-by at random’ in an article in today’s Mail on Sunday;
- Government sources admitted it had been a ‘mistake’ to replace Mr Zahawi as Vaccines Minister with low-profile Maggie Throup;
- The boss of Pimlico Plumbers likened the impact on children of parents working from home to idling on the dole, saying: ‘You’ve got to break the cycle otherwise it’s like when parents are on benefits and capable of going to work, and the kids say, “I’ll do that too”;
- Union bosses were accused of scaremongering after warning No 10 it risks another ‘winter of chaos’ unless it imposes its Covid Plan B, which would see more draconian measures imposed to combat the virus.
MPs say they have been bombarded with complaints from constituents about the glacial pace of the booster jab rollout.
The booster jabs are intended to deal with waning immunity among groups which first received the vaccines at the start of the year – but the number administered each day has been a fraction of the rate during the initial programme.
The jabs will not be rolled out to the under-50s until a greater proportion of the older age group have been jabbed, which at the current rate is expected to be in early 2022.
Mr Johnson responded to the criticism this weekend by asking Emily Lawson, the head of the No 10 Delivery Unit, to return to her old job running England’s vaccine programme.
The effort has also been stymied by Mr Zahawi’s move to Education Secretary, Sir Simon Stevens’ departure as head of the NHS and Matt Hancock’s resignation as Health Secretary over his breach of social distancing rules with an aide.
Mr Javid has warned the number of new cases could peak at 100,000 a day this winter, prompting fears of another lockdown – although Mr Johnson insisted that was ‘not on the cards at all’. Chancellor Rishi Sunak also said that the country could not return to ‘significant economic restrictions’.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a Government scientific adviser, said yesterday that he was ‘very fearful’ there will be another ‘lockdown Christmas’.
However, modelling by experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies indicated it was ‘highly unlikely’ the NHS would be overwhelmed by the virus, as a combination of vaccine-acquired and natural immunity means fewer people would need hospital treatment than in the early weeks of the pandemic last year.
It comes as Javid pushes for the remainder of NHS staff to get double jabbed, with 106,351 still not vaccinated, about 7 per cent of the total workforce.
Education Minister will send teenagers ‘please get the vaccine’ letter as four out of five 12-15 year olds remain unjabbed – despite experts claiming the cohort holds the power to stop the virus spreading
By Anna Mikhailova and Stephen Adams for the Mail on Sunday
Ministers are considering writing to every 12 to 15-year-old in the country to urge them to get their Covid vaccine.
The letter would be signed by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi in a bid to improve the slow jab rollout in schools.
So far only 19.8 per cent of that age group has been jabbed.
However, the move has sparked a row within Government over whether writing to children directly would be appropriate.
The letter would be signed by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi in a bid to improve the slow jab rollout in schools
Whitehall officials have raised concerns that the move would risk undermining parental consent.
Since the rollout was extended to all 12- to 15-year-olds more than a month ago, MPs have warned that parents must be given a final say in whether their child should be vaccinated.
Schools normally send forms to parents seeking permission for pupils to receive a jab.
However, children also have a say and in some cases can override their parents, although the Government has insisted this would only apply ‘very rarely’.
It comes as analysis for The Mail on Sunday shows only a third of 12- to 15-year-olds will be jabbed by December if the rollout continues at the current pace.
Just 564,518 out of 2.8 million 12- to 15-year-olds in England had been vaccinated by last Friday – compared with nearly two thirds of 16- to 18-year-olds.
The jab rollout has averaged just 12,100 of such children a day in the past month.
Failing to significantly speed up kids’ jabs could leave the majority of children in that age group unprotected by Christmas because the vaccine takes 14 days to take full effect.
Last week, the Prime Minister held a meeting with Mr Zahawi, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chief of Staff Dan Rosenfield about how to speed up the rollout.
NHS bosses are also scrambling to use half term to vaccinate as many children as possible, with England’s top GP, Dr Nikki Kanani – medical director of primary care for NHS England – making a plea to parents to book their children in by revealing her 13-year-old has received the jab.
Some 2.5 million NHS letters – covering almost the entire age cohort of 12- to 15-year-olds in England – are being sent out from tomorrow to parents and guardians in a blitz aimed at increasing uptake.
It comes after the NHS’s national booking service for Covid jabs opened up for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Dr Kanani, who is also deputy lead for the Covid vaccination programme, said: ‘Millions of parents will be receiving letters from tomorrow inviting their children to get a Covid vaccine through the National Booking Service.
‘This provides an additional way for 12- to 15-year-olds to get their vaccine following the rollout in schools that has seen more than a half million vaccinated.’
She added: ‘The decision to get vaccinated has always been a private choice between a child and their parent or guardian – my 13-year-old son received his vaccine at school on the same day I had my booster dose in a local pharmacy.
‘I would urge families to look at the information together and then book in to give children and their loved ones crucial protection ahead of winter.’ Parents whose children have had the jab will also receive the letter, as it is part of a mass mailing. The NHS says to ignore it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi visit the Westbury-on-Trym Church of England Academy in Bristol
The sluggish nature of the campaign contrasts sharply with the situation in Scotland.
When the decision to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds was made on September 20, rates were similar in both countries – with 5.7 per cent of that age group jabbed in England, and 5.4 per cent in Scotland.
These youngsters had already been vaccinated because they are clinically vulnerable, or live with someone who is, meaning they fall into a higher priority group.
But in the month since then, Scotland has stormed ahead, having jabbed more than 50 per cent of its 12- to 15-year-olds – a vaccination rate of 3,640 children a day.
Over the same period, England has only managed to shift the dial to just under 20 per cent.
The contrasting campaigns may have contributed to the divergence in Covid case rates in under-15s since early September, when they stood at about 400 a week per 100,000 in both England and Scotland. In England, they have since shot up to more than 800 per 100,000, while in Scotland they have dropped to below 200.
Experts are worried that higher Covid case rates are starting to spill over into older age groups as children bring the virus home to parents and grandparents.
They believe that vaccinating secondary-school pupils is key to controlling the virus this winter, as Covid rates are currently at their highest in teenagers.
A recent modelling study calculated that jabbing all 12- to 15-year-olds could prevent tens of thousands of hospital admissions, mainly of older people, saving thousands of lives. If most of this age group remains unvaccinated, however, these benefits will not materialise.
‘Very quiet, comforting, non-political figure’: Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup keeps a very low profile as fans sing her praises as someone widely liked with a reputation for ‘getting on with the job’
By Brendan Carlin for the Mail on Sunday
An ally of Ms Throup said she had been a ‘grandma figure’ in the Whips’ Office, and was deployed to comfort unhappy MPs – skills which will be useful if complaints about the slow booster rollout continue to come in
Tory MPs have vented their frustration at Boris Johnson’s decision to replace high-profile former Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi with little-known MP Maggie Throup.
They said it was ‘a mystery’ as to why the Prime Minister had picked the former Whip for the key role.
One senior Tory MP said: ‘This is causing major concerns.
‘Let’s face it – Nadhim had a touch of showbusiness about him. You just can’t say that about Maggie.’
However, other MPs privately blame Chief Whip Mark Spencer for promoting Ms Throup from the Tory Whips Office.
A former Minister told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I don’t think Boris would have had a clue who she was. The idea of promoting her must have come from the Chief Whip.’
Other MPs have sprung to Ms Throup’s defence, saying she was widely liked and had a reputation for ‘getting on with the job’.
That diligence led one colleague to dub her ‘Super Throuper’.
Her science background is also expected to help her in the new job – Ms Throup, 64, read biology at university, before working as a biomedical scientist at Calderdale Health Authority and then at a pharmaceutical company.
An ally of Ms Throup said she had been a ‘grandma figure’ in the Whips’ Office, and was deployed to comfort unhappy MPs – skills which will be useful if complaints about the slow booster rollout continue to come in.
However, colleagues admitted that the Erewash MP had kept a low profile since entering the Commons in 2015.
Other MPs have sprung to Ms Throup’s defence, saying she was widely liked and had a reputation for ‘getting on with the job’
How much longer can we tolerate anti-vaxxers clogging up the NHS?
By David Mellor for the Mail on Sunday
Sadly, the pernicious anti-vaxxer movement is helping sustain Covid-19. It’s filling up hospital beds as the latest month’s figures show that two-thirds of the under-50s admitted with the virus are unvaccinated.
The knock-on effect is that the NHS is constrained from treating others desperately ill with conditions such as cancer.
As important as booster jabs are, the priority is still to reach the millions of supposedly adult citizens who have refused the vaccine.
Undaunted by such stories, anti-vaxxers continue to defy medical advice and common sense
It is believed that half of professional footballers haven’t even had a first jab. Refusing the jab is not merely irrational, it’s taking a chance with your life. A gamble where lives are being lost.
There have been tragic examples – such as a 58-year-old Cambridge-educated lawyer who said he hoped he had got the virus because he’d prefer to have the antibodies in his blood than take the jab.
‘I’d rather take my chances with my immune system,’ he added. He did just that – and died.
Undaunted by such stories, anti-vaxxers continue to defy medical advice and common sense.
This leads again to the question that won’t go away: how much longer can we tolerate seeing the NHS clogged up with people who get Covid really badly because they won’t be vaccinated? Is this just a matter for individual choice? Or are the consequences for society too serious to overlook – particularly with the threat of a return of social restrictions for us all, and perhaps even another lockdown.
I acknowledge, having been a Minister for 11 years, that the options are not easy. It’s tempting to suggest that anti-vaxxers should be denied treatment, or treated only at their own expense. This has been seriously suggested in Australia. But I doubt it would work there and certainly won’t work in the UK.
The choice is stark: a vaccine passport system – or disruption, misery and irreparable damage to millions of lives and to the economy
But a vaccine passport might. Why shouldn’t we ban those who refuse the vaccine from visiting places of entertainment or – as Italy has done – from going to work?
I believe it is no exaggeration to say that what anti-vaxxers are doing could be likened to someone running along a street stabbing passers-by at random.
Unpalatable as many will find it, I am convinced that we must act, otherwise there’s a terrible danger we’ll be saddled with unmanageable Covid outbreaks for as far ahead as we can see.
The choice is stark: a vaccine passport system – or disruption, misery and irreparable damage to millions of lives and to the economy.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Ask any anti-vaxxer.
A group of them were filmed on Tuesday, howling expletives at Michael Gove, as he walked through Westminster. Why?
For the high crime and misdemeanour of supporting the vaccination of people against Covid-19.
This was undoubtedly a public order offence, yet the police did nothing about the altercation (typical).
It didn’t seem to matter that it happened just a few days after the killing of his colleague Sir David Amess.
Gove was left to take his chances without knowing whether they were merely going to shout at him or, so inflamed by the madness on the internet, that one or more of these people would physically assault him.
Take a look at the kind of rubbish promoted online.
Covid has been designed as a means of controlling the population, we are told.
It was caused by the World Health Organisation acting in consort with Big Pharma and Bill Gates. It’s a side effect of 5G mobile telephone upgrades.
Oh, and by the way, those blue disposable masks have been impregnated with asbestos.
The anti-vaxxer world is full of crazed voices.
Piers Corbyn, for example, seems determined to present himself as more of a loony tune than brother Jeremy.
Here’s the gospel according to Piers: ‘Bill Gates wants vaccinations to control you, and to control women’s fertility to reduce the world population.
‘That’s his game, and he’s going to get loads of money of it. You will pay with your money and your life. We say “No”.’
Meanwhile, he distributes leaflets comparing the UK’s covid vaccine rollout to Auschwitz.
His Indian equivalent, Swami Chakrapani, claims you don’t need a vaccine because applying cow dung to your body will do the trick.
Maybe coronavirus would be better.
Faced with such nonsense, you might reasonably think the best thing to do is laugh and pass by on the other side.
I don’t agree. This is stuff is pernicious. It is helping to sustain Covid-19, to prolong suffering and death.
It’s filling up hospital beds, thereby constraining the health service from treating patients desperately ill with other conditions like cancer – treatment put on hold during the pandemic with often devastating effects.
Let me concentrate the mind with a few statistics.
As many as four out of ten of those hospitalised with Covid-19 are not fully vaccinated.
Pensioners are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital with covid if they are anti-vaxxers.
Initial results suggest that booster jabs are 95 per cent effective. That’s why I’m having mine on Wednesday.
But as Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the distinguished head of the Oxford vaccine group which created the AstraZeneca jab, points out, however important the boosters will prove, the immediate priority are the millions of supposedly adult citizens who have simply refused to take a life-saving injection.
Too many of whom now occupy beds in intensive care.
In some areas of the country, the take up of the important second vaccine is as low as 50 per cent.
It is thought that half of professional footballers haven’t even had a first jab.
Refusing the vaccine is not merely irrational, it’s taking a chance with your life. A gamble where lives are lost.
Leslie Lawrenson, a 58 year old Cambridge-educated lawyer, blogged: ‘I hope I’ve got it because I’d rather have the antibodies in my blood than take the jab…the potential dangers from taking these experimental jabs weren’t worth the risk. I’d rather take my chances with my immune system.’
Well he did, and he lost. A few days later, his 11 year old son found him dead.
Matthew Keenan was ‘a wholly confirmed vaccine sceptic’, when he fell desperately ill last July. He said if he could turn back time, he would. But he couldn’t.
And this fit football coach and proud dad died needlessly last July aged only 34. What a sad waste.
Throughout history tens of millions have died of diseases that wouldn’t kill them today because of vaccinations.
In a quiet graveyard in Dorset, two infants are buried. My aunt and uncle, who died of diphtheria in the 1920s, when it was the biggest killer of kids. Diphtheria was known as ‘the silent strangler’ because of the awful manner of their death.
Today, most youngsters have never even heard of diphtheria, let alone died from it, because vaccinations finished it off.
There’s a word for some people’s rejection of a life-saving jab, and that word is decadence.
I look back six decades to Geoff Hall, a hero of my childhood. This Birmingham City and England fullback was enjoying a hugely successful career. Then polio killed him.
Wouldn’t he have loved the opportunity to be vaccinated? One sadly didn’t emerge until a few years too late for him.
Thankfully, children today know nothing of polio, either.
As to the anti-vaxxers, we cannot merely switch them off, much as I would like to do so.
A few months ago I was on a tube train when it was invaded by a loud, who started ripping down covid posters, and, having dragged a ghetto blaster into the carriage, began playing anti-vax songs and dancing around.
What did London Underground do? Nothing.
So, again, the question that won’t go away: how much longer can we tolerate seeing the NHS bunged up with people who get covid really badly because they won’t be vaccinated?
Is this just a matter for individual choice? Or are the consequences for society too serious to overlook?
Ask the people not getting proper care for cancer.
Ask the people whose lives have been thrown into chaos by the wider effects of the continuing Covid meltdown.
The court system has ground to a halt. All manner of cases – some say 60,000 – are held up, a lot of them really serious like murders and rapes.
What will be the consequence for justice when finally they are heard, if ever they are, and memories have dimmed?
All those half-empty public offices. The banks that won’t talk to you because everyone’s at home. The schools turned upside down by perpetual closures.
Today we find ourselves looking at the return of restrictions, perhaps even the abyss of another lockdown.
I acknowledge, having been a minister for 11 years, that the options are not easy.
Anti vaccination protesters march through Newcastle warning of the supposed dangers of COVID-19 vaccinations
It’s tempting to suggest that anti-vaxxers should be denied treatment, or treated only at their own expense. It’s been seriously suggested in Australia.
But I doubt it would work there and certainly won’t work here.
But a vaccine passport might. Why shouldn’t we ban those who refuse the vaccine from places of entertainment or – as Italy has done – from going to work?
Forcing the anti-vaxxers to stay at home, it can be argued, is necessary for public protection.
If they wish to exercise their individual choice, then let them do so. But in a way that does not damage you or me or the wider public interest.
What the anti-vaxxers are doing is, in its way, as harmful to society as if they ran along a street stabbing passers-by at random.
Unpalatable as many will find it, I believe we have to act or there’s a terrible danger we’ll be saddled with unmanageable covid outbreaks for as far ahead as we can see.
All that disruption. All that misery. All the damage caused to business and the economy.
I’m not up for that.
Q&A: So why HAS our world-beating jab programme hit the buffers?
By Jo Macfarlane for the Mail on Sunday
What’s going wrong with the booster programme?
It’s too slow. The UK led the world in approving and delivering the first Covid jabs, but only half of the eight million currently eligible have had a booster since the programme began on September 16.
Thirty million over-50s and those with underlying health problems will become eligible for a top-up dose six months after their second jab. But at the current pace of 200,000 booster jabs a day – compared with 400,000 during the peak of the first drive – it will take until March to finish the job.
NHS England admitted it had sent out only 5.5 million invitations, and promised to despatch a further two million last week
Are those in charge to blame?
There’s been a change at the top. The departure of those credited with the first rollout’s success – Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi and Kate Bingham, who led the Vaccines Taskforce – means it’s now in the hands of Maggie Throup, described as having ‘all the verve of cotton wool’.
NHS England admitted it had sent out only 5.5 million invitations, and promised to despatch a further two million last week.
It’s telling that the Government has brought back Emily Lawson, who ran the initial jab drive.
Is the public becoming complacent about Covid risks?
Only partly. Many are unaware that protection wanes over time, which may account for the lacklustre booster uptake.
When the first vaccines were rolled out, they were seen as a way out of lockdown and vital for saving lives. But some experts believe the advantages of a booster have been less clearly explained.
Pharmacists in Manchester told the BBC they had capacity for ‘600 or 700’ jabs a day but only 100 takers. However, surveys show that 82 per cent of us would take an extra shot if offered. And many of those eligible have not yet been invited to book a jab.
Are the public confused about how to get the jab?
When the booster programme was announced, people were told to wait to be invited by the NHS.
Ministers last week backtracked, telling eligible people they could book a jab online or via 119, even without an invitation. But there was more confusion when the NHS booking website was not initially updated, and continued to say only those with an invitation could book a jab. From today, eligible people will be able to book their booster weeks before it is due.
Why can’t GPs give out the jabs?
In the first rollout, GPs delivered 75 per cent of all innoculations. This time, many practices have opted out, complaining of patient backlogs and having to administer the flu vaccine. Doctors were also asked to continue routine care, which they weren’t first time.
Can’t it be given with the flu jab?
Yes. Studies show it’s safe and they’re licensed to be given together. But there are practical constraints, including patients having to be monitored for 15 minutes after the jab, which GPs don’t have the capacity to deal with.
What’s happened to my local vaccine centre?
Many church halls or ‘pop-up’ vaccine clinics have been closed in favour of pharmacies and larger out-of-town venues. Doctors say ease of access may be affecting uptake. And there are fewer volunteers helping. However, figures show the number of vaccine centres overall has risen from 1,543 in February to 2,205.
Is online booking working?
Yes, but there have been glitches. Some eligible people with invitations have been wrongly informed by the NHS booking website that they can’t yet book a jab. This is understood to have been put right, but call 119 if you are having difficulty.
The Government has pledged 100 million doses to Third World countries, but says this will not affect our booster programme
Is there a shortage of booster vaccines?
No. The Government ordered 60 million booster doses, and about 20 million are stockpiled. Orders are also in for new vaccines from Valneva and Novavax, which will become available once approved.
The Government has pledged 100 million doses to Third World countries, but says this will not affect our booster programme.
Is there a postcode lottery?
Unfortunately, yes. Because some GPs have opted out, some areas have fewer vaccine clinics. There is no data yet on which regions are performing best, but the Midlands has delivered over 800,000 jabs – 40 per cent more than in the South West and East of England.
Vaccine hesitancy will also affect uptake. In Leicester, Luton and parts of London with large South Asian and black populations, only 50 to 60 per cent are fully vaccinated.